Ahead of the first in the series of Healing Arts workshops, run by Voices That Shake!’s Healing Justice collective, here’s some nourishing quotes from writers on the healing power of writing: a conversation between Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Junot Díaz and others.
And a link to the essay that derives one of my favourite go-to quotes (which I’ve possibly mentioned on every single Shake! course is also up here: “Creativity is the Immune System of the Mind…”).
bell hooks: Writing is my passion. It is a way to experience the ecstatic. The root understanding of the word ecstasy—“to stand outside”—comes to me in those moments when I am immersed so deeply in the act of thinking and writing that everything else, even flesh, falls away.
Arthur Koestler: There is no sharp dividing line between self-repair and self realisation. All creative activity is a kind of do-it-yourself therapy, an attempt to come to terms with traumatising challenges
Toni Morrison: There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
Maya Angelou: When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for wate it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.
Aurora Levins Morales: Right here in our bodies, in our defense of our right to experience joy, in the refusal to abandon the place where we have been most completely invaded & colonized, in our determination to make the bombed & defoliated lands flower again and bear fruit, here where we have been most shamed is one of the most radical & sacred places from which to transform the world.
Toni Cade Bambara: Writing is one of the ways I participate in transformation.
Ben Okri: When we have made an experience or a chaos into a story we have transformed it, made sense of it, transmuted experience, domesticated the chaos.
bell hooks: Writing and performing should deepen the meaning of words, should illuminate, transfix and transform.
Ken Saro-Wiwa: In this country [England], writers write to entertain, they raise questions of individual existence…but for a Nigerian writer in my position you can’t go into that. Literature has to be combative. You cannot have art for art’s sake. This art must do something to transform the lives of a community, of a nation.
Toni Cade Bambara: Words are to be taken seriously… Words set things in motion… Words set up atmospheres, electrical fields, charges… Words conjure.
Gloria E. Anzaldúa: The world I create in writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger.
Toni Morrison: Writing for me is the only free place. It’s the only place where I’m not doing what somebody else wants or asks or needs. Writing is mine.
Gloria E. Anzaldúa: Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself.
Audre Lorde: I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.
Gloria E. Anzaldúa: I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue – my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.
Audre Lorde: If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.
Gloria E. Anzaldúa: I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you. To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispell the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit. To show that I can and that I will write, never mind the outraged gasp of the censor and the audience. Finally I write because I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing.
Audre Lorde: Poetry is not only a dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.
Maya Angelou: Poetry puts starch in your backbone so you can stand, so you can compose your life.
Audre Lorde: Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper. … poetry has been the major voice of poor, working class, and Colored women. A room of one’s own may be a necessity for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time.
Gloria E. Anzaldúa: Forget the room of one’s own–write in the kitchen, lock yourself up in the bathroom. Write on the bus or the welfare line, on the job or during meals, between sleeping and waking. I write while sitting on the john.
Audre Lorde: and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
Shlomo Giora Shoham: Either we transform our burden into something creative or slump under it without authenticity, confounded by a petrifying routine… Since creativity is the prime mode of communication it might well be the antidote to violence.
Audre Lorde: I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.
Hans Prinzhorn: There exists a primitive need in every human being to create which the development of civilisation has obscured
Audre Lorde: Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.
Gloria E. Anzaldúa: The act of writing is the act of making soul, alchemy.
Robert Bly: We make the path by walking
Jean Dubuffet: It is not genius, contrary to what everyone says, which has ever prevented the production of art. Genius is the most fluid currency which exists, genius abounds and any newcomer has sufficient reserve to produce a work of art.
Natalie Goldberg: In writing practice, there’s no direction. You enter your own mind and follow it where it takes you. We have a great need to connect with our own mind and our own true self. And all of us have a story to tell.
Robert Bly: It’s all right if you grow your wings on the way down.
John Holt: The creative process in the form of the arts in its full range is the location of the true expression of life’s diversity and of life journeys, indeed of philosophy itself.
Robert Bly: My feeling is that poetry is also a healing process, and then when a person tries to write poetry with depth or beauty, he will find himself guided along paths which will heal him, and this is more important, actually, than any of the poetry he writes.
John Holt: To make meaning of our lives and construct mythological maps of our journeys moves us to a deeper understanding of self and the relationship between our minds/bodies and the environment. This process of re-connection with the cosmos is inherent and eternally human… People who share their own “ways of knowing” through linguistic constructs reveal a consciousness which is heightened often in frightening ways by its struggle to comprehend, to find its own peace in other than conflicting and intrusive ways. From the platform of this work the viewer, the audience, reconstructs those maps of the psyche in ways appropriate to their own passage through life, using the signs and symbols in significant ways for themselves. And so this process heals at each stage, in the making and in the sharing.
Gao Xingjian: Writing eases my suffering… writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.
Paulo Coelho: That is why I write – to try to turn sadness into longing, solitude into remembrance.
bell hooks: I write these words to bear witness to the primacy of resistance struggle in any situation of domination (even within family life); to the strength and power that emerges from sustained resistance and the profound conviction that these forces can be healing, can protect us from dehumanization and despair.
James Baldwin: You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world… The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way … people look at reality, then you can change it.
Toni Cade Bambara: The purpose of a writer is to make revolution irresistible.
bell hooks: No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”…No woman has ever written enough.
Ellen Bass: So often survivors have had their experiences denied, trivialized, or distorted. Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality.
James Baldwin: All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.
Luis J. Rodriguez: Art is the heart’s explosion on the world. Music. Dance. Poetry. Art on cars, on walls, on our skins. There is probably no more powerful force for change in this uncertain and crisis-ridden world than young people and their art. It is the consciousness of the world breaking away from the strangle grip of an archaic social order.
Alice Walker: Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.
Natalie Goldberg: We have to look at our own inertia, insecurities, self-hate, fear that, in truth, we have nothing valuable to say. When your writing blooms out of the back of this garbage compost, it is very stable. You are not running from anything. You can have a sense of artistic security. If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.
Mat Kearney: Ultimately, when you write from a vantage point of faith, humility and openness to the world around you, people have to respond because those same truths are instilled in them.
Maya Angelou: We need to remember that we are all created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.
James Baldwin: The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.
Junot Díaz: In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.
James Baldwin: You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.
Wole Soyinka: Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth.
Junot Díaz: if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.
James Baldwin: The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through vast forests, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.
Junot Díaz: In my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.
James Baldwin: Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.
Maya Angelou: I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.
James Baldwin: When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living.
Wole Soyinka: But the ultimate lesson is just sit down and write. That’s all.